SOMETIME early last year we were collectively shocked by reports that a well-meaning Tanzanian gentleman who goes by the name of David Maige was rudely turned away from Lake Manyara Hotel where he had planned to spend some quality time with his family.
At the time we were told - according to those in the know - that the owners of the hotel had a problem with customers who arrive at the hotel in a skin bearing another colour other than white. Apparently, the hotel is a preserve of members of the light-skinned community, but does allow wealthy black Africans to dine there once in a while.
So, when David arrived with his family in a black skin looking like a man of severely limited means, the guards 'sorted' him out by explaining in very certain terms that his presence there was being considered an irritation. He was told that if he valued what had remained of his miserable life, he would do better to catch the next Daladala home.
David, a career conservationist, should have known better that even in a crowd of a million wealthy people, the guards manning Lake Manyara Hotel would have smelled him out a hundred miles away. This is not to mention that he would already have been betrayed by the colour of his skin which was among the issues under intense contention anyway.
The ill-treatment of Mr. Maige and his family at this very popular tourist hotel caused an uproar which led to the intervention of a government minister. When things got hotter - with many others voicing similar complaints as David’s towards the hotel - the management responded with claims that since the bombing of a tourist hotel in Mombasa, the hotel had decided to tighten security in its bid to keep away terrorists.
The hotel’s connection of the incident with a red alert on terrorist threats was a stark reminder that racist tendencies and discrimination along socio-economic lines are alive and kicking in our country more than four decades after independence. The incident also reminded many that it is very easy to get into harms way if you are both black and poor.
In David’s story lies a rather familiar trend that many of us are only too aware of. His shocking discovery of both racial and socio-economic stigma underlines the realities that contradict Tanzania’s history of social equity. As time flies by, the 'deeply-entrenched' values gained during a period of post-colonial socialism are facing rapid erosion. As values go extinct, capitalist tendencies are quickly forming the fabric of our society.
David’s sad story sheds some light on the embarrassments that the-not-so-wealthy Tanzanians have to live with in their daily search for happiness. The story of poverty in this country is perhaps captured best by the current spat between Mheshimiwa Sitta and Mzee Mrema. The public feud between these two gentlemen provides an excellent confirmation of our general thinking, as a people, on poverty and wealth amassment.
In today's Tanzania, the ultimate insult you could ever face is to witness your poor economic status being subjected to a public audit by your enemy. The greatest source of satisfaction for your enemy, however, is for him to look down at you and make you feel inferior because your bank account is a pale skinny shadow when compared to his.
On the other hand, the greatest source of pleasure for the not-so-rich is to derive maximum profit out of an opportunity such as the one presented to Mheshimiwa Mrema by his newfound 'rival'. The absurdity of the amount of money being angled for notwithstanding.
What I am saying is that our obsession with wealth has clouded our human imagination so that we see in others a lack of wealth as a serious human flaw. At the end of the day, because we want to prove that we are very rich, we end up looking like little boys trying to compare the length of their genitalia rather than maintaining the humble reserve that our forefathers spent their lifetimes trying to hammer into us.
Despite strides in economic development in our country since independence, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen as we stand aside and cheer. The end-result is the birth and steady growth of socio-economic classes in our country. It is due to these classes, under the keen supervision of our leaders, that we have a mad rush to amass wealth. The end result of wealth glorification is that it has fuelled the rise of corruption in the country.
In effect, today we have weaker systems of justice which are selective in their judgment. Selective because if we had been talking of a problem involving purse snatchers or chicken thieves we wouldn't have problems committing them to more than 20 years behind bars. But look at the biggest criminals; they are roaming our streets free. For those in police custody, it is always just a matter of time before they regain their freedom to plunder. It is always nothing more than a patient wait for the noise to die down. Each day in a courtroom is a day closer to freedom.
There are times when a country has to wake up and face challenges and realities that life throws at her. At such a point in the life of a country, she has to face both the internal and external voices of derision and prove that she is worth some salt. Tanzania has reached such a stage.
Most of us are clinically depressed by the antics of our leaders who continue to plunder our country with carefully choreographed moves that defy justice. It has reached a point in life where Tanzanians have to shake off the bad dream of living on the threshold of zero happiness.
If you are poor in this country you will be branded a terrorist, a petty thief and the highest probability is that you will end up in a hospital where a simple migraine will lead to the loss of an innocent leg through amputation. Our only option is to fight poverty with all our God-given ammunition.